Having moved into the relative comfort of the early-season mid-table, we have a small buffer from which to confront what looks set to be our toughest three home games of the season – against Barnsley, Sunderland, and Portsmouth – which just so happen to also be our next three home games.
Forget about the chastening mid-week Checkatrade Trophy loss to Arsenal’s youngsters, taking all three points from Oxford United was crucial for us at this early stage of the season. While the performance at the Kassam Stadium was far from polished, the team demonstrated a level of pragmatism and cynicism required to prey on an opponent’s short-comings and squeeze out a narrow victory.
Whether those qualities will be applicable against a Barnsley side that looks streets ahead much of the rest of this division remains to be seen, but we have seen that if our opponents aren’t on their game, we are able to take advantage. Furthermore, with Conor Chaplin appearing to have added an extra dimension in attack, Jonson Clarke-Harris possibly starting to make a more consistent impact, Tom Bayliss being utilised in his most effective central position, and Luke Thomas and Jordan Shipley looking to have provided balance in wide areas, we look to have more of a plan in attack than we’ve seen for much of this season.
Given Wednesday night’s showing against Arsenal’s under-23s with our second-choice side, there really is little reason to deviate from the side that defeated Oxford United. That is unless Jordan Shipley’s injury proves too serious for him to play in this game, which leaves something of a selection conundrum on the left-side of midfield, where there is a lack of natural options. Additionally, if Brandon Mason is available, he may well take the place of the underwhelming Junior Brown at left-back.
Last Time We Met
With the 4-2 win at the Ricoh Arena on a Tuesday night in November – featuring that free-kick from Joe Cole – representing close to the high water mark of Tony Mowbray’s reign at the club, a dreary 2-0 loss at Oakwell the following March was close to the low point. It was a case of two sides on almost polar opposite trajectories facing each other, Barnsley on the rise having dwelt in the lower reaches of the division for much of the first half of the campaign, the Sky Blues struggling for form having starting the campaign in blistering form.
Barnsley went on to achieve promotion via the play-offs that year, we fell short before suffering relegation the year after. We now meet two seasons later with ourselves off the back of a promotion season and Barnsley having been relegated.
How Are They Doing?
Barnsley had propelled themselves back into the Championship based on the recruitment of young up-and-coming players, however, they struggled to overcome the sale of some of their star names, combined with a takeover last January and a slight change in strategy towards recruiting more overseas players, and they now find themselves back in League One. Nonetheless, this is a squad packed with match-winners at this level of football and under the tutelage of German manager Daniel Stendel, they have started the season well with several high-intensity and high-scoring victories.
Kieffer Moore up front looks to be the biggest threat, a physical yet very mobile and skilful target-man who scored a hatful last season with Rotherham in League One before earning a move to the Championship with Barnsley in January and building on that form. However, the Tykes have a range of further attacking weapons from the pacey Senegalese forward Mamadou Thiam – a player who’ll shoot from any and every angle – to the driving forces of George Moncur, Alex Mowatt, Cameron McGeehan and Brad Potts from midfield, while youngster Victor Adeboyejo has proven a reliable source of goals from the bench.
Barnsley also have defensive players who look to be a step above League One level, led by Australian defensive midfielder Kenny Dougall. Ethan Pinnock and Liam Lindsay in central defence were strong performers last year in the Championship who Barnsley did well to keep hold of. Full-backs Dimitri Cavare and Dani Pinillos not only defend well but support attacks with energy and quality, Cavare in particular, who already has a goal and two assists to his name from right-back.
The main issue with Barnsley in recent weeks has been an inability to kill off games in which they have dominated. They dropped points against Walsall and AFC Wimbledon against relatively well-organised sides who managed to keep themselves in the game despite Barnsley’s dominance. Mark Robins has to be looking to follow a similar template, hoping that there are as few mistakes as possible from ourselves in our own half of the pitch while probably praying for a level of profligacy from Barnsley.
This is an important game in setting the tone for these opening few months of the season. With so many new faces having arrived over the summer, we’re in need of moments to define what this team is all about. Winning a long overdue promotion last year has reduced the burden of expectation somewhat, but there is a danger that that, combined with the squad overhaul, has put us in a state of limbo as we search to figure out where we go next and what is achievable.
Barnsley fans are travelling in numbers to the Ricoh Arena looking forward to ending a long-awaited record without an away victory against us, they expect to beat us comfortably. With Sunderland and Portsmouth set to come in the weeks ahead, there is a danger that we become viewed as a nice day out for the promotion contenders to celebrate with their fans. Pulling off what would be a shock result in winning this game would send a message to those bigger sides in the division that we will be a difficult team to play against and, more importantly, galvanise this current iteration of Coventry City with the fans.
The lack of a playing identity and character that we’ve seen from ourselves for much of this season – particularly in our poorer displays – makes it difficult for me to foresee a positive result or performance here. This could be a game that gets the season properly going for us, but I have a strong feeling that we will lose this by a comfortable margin. 3-0 to Barnsley.